UC Davis graduate, Spring 2022
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
Nora and I arrived at the ranch early in the morning for the piglets’ first journey outside their stall. After corralling Care Bear and Jelly Bean into the pen, I buckled Romeo into his smart blue harness and opened the stall door. Although we had tried to prepare the piglets for this moment, we had no idea what to expect. Would they shrink back in fear? Would they attempt to bolt and slip out of their harnesses? I placed a small pile of food outside the stall and watched Romeo step out into the big world with only a hint of caution. He was ready to rule the ranch.
I had imagined that walking pigs would mostly involve standing around while their big snouts absorbed a symphony of smells, but Romeo was on a mission…to get fed. He trotted alongside me in such a businesslike manner that I could almost see him in a suit and tie. I’ve been walking the piglets for a few days now, and they seldom stop to sniff. With occasional rewards, they heel like well-trained dogs, perpetually hopeful for food. Care Bear is a bit more apprehensive than the others and is afraid of random objects such as pieces of plastic. All the piglets are wary of uneven terrain, and I realized that compared to tiny piglet hooves, cracks in the dirt are almost ravines! But overall, I was very impressed with their confidence, so when a young man recently asked to pet Romeo, I thought he might be ready to socialize outside the stall. I put some food on the ground near the man, and Romeo walked right up. But when the man tried to pet Romeo, he jumped back like he had been shot from a cannon and bounced around, squealing and trying to wriggle out of his harness. I dropped some food near him, and he settled down. We’ll work on socialization more gradually, but for pigs, food has superpowers.
When we first started walking the piglets, I thought they might have only cared about the food, but apparently, they liked the taste of freedom too and decided to take matters into their own hooves. On a recent morning, I opened the stall door and discovered that the piglets had broken two of the bars on the heavy-duty x-pen that we had used to create a double door. When we started taking the piglets on walks, we had brought them through the space between the x-pen and the stall door for the first time, which must have given them their bright idea. Now they had created their own little pig door into their tiny foyer, and I had to be careful not to let sneak past me when I entered the stall. The piglets’ remodeling project nearly resulted in a disaster because there used to be a gap under the wall between their stall and the neighboring one. Fortunately, I had just covered the gap with a board a couple days earlier. If I hadn’t, the piglets would have visited their neighbor the horse and then slipped out of his stall. After puzzling over how to deal with the busted x-pen, I lined it with cinder blocks and used them to prop boards against it. It might work for a while, but I’m afraid that trying to outsmart pigs is a losing battle.
As the piglets grow stronger, braver, and more determined, they will present more challenges as well as more opportunities. They will meet new people, explore new places, and find increasingly creative ways to get into trouble. It’s my job to provide them with the enrichment they need to exercise their minds and bodies, which is equally enriching for me.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!